In a quiet Bills’ off-season, it’s no surprise that the popular topic of discussion out of One Bills Drive has quickly become whether or not Buffalo should extend Tyrod Taylor. You’ll see the subject polluting your Twitter timeline, you’ll hear it debated between drunken buddies at your local sports bar of choice, and when Taylor’s agent Adisa Bakari winds up on Sirius XM NFL Radio bashing Buffalo’s discipline and defense to highlight his client’s value, the conversation will certainly dominate local headlines.
In some respects maybe Bakari was right; the Bills’ defense sputtered throughout the season trying to grasp Rex Ryan’s scheme and with a league-high 168 penalties called against them, they were embarrassingly undisciplined. However, while Taylor did showcase some reliably consistent play in 2015, he was far from elite.
In his first year as the Buffalo’s signal caller Taylor made 14 starts and finished 8-6. He threw for a respectable 3,035 yards, added nearly 600 more on the ground and scored a combined 24 total touchdowns. Those numbers earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl as an alternate after other quarterbacks like his AFC East-mate Tom Brady backed out. Still, a trip to the Pro Bowl is a trip to the Pro Bowl, it’s an accomplishment Taylor gets to use in contract negotiations.
He is a dual threat talent, who tosses a beautiful deep ball, with a great story. As a first year starter he proved he can have success in the NFL after taking advantage of an opportunity most people saw simply as was an experiment for Buffalo. Even if starting Taylor was the Bills’ way of rolling the dice with a bargain QB, it’s clearly become more than that now. But does this one-year sample truly show them enough to crown him their franchise guy?
Don’t be so easily persuaded by a single-season of steady quarterback play, simply because it’s the best we’ve seen in recent history. It’s not as if there was some stiff competition for us to compare Taylor to. Names like J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and E.J. Manuel aren’t exactly Hall of Fame talents, and yet, we can look no further than Fitzpatrick to remember the last time Buffalo was a bit too anxious to pay a quarterback.
Bills fans will remember 2011 all too well. Fitzpatrick was in the final year of a three-year, $7.4 million deal and as the the starter under center helped orchestrate a 4-2 start to the season. Things were looking up in Orchard Park. Buffalo finally had their franchise quarterback – or so they thought.
Days before their Week 8 meeting with the Washington Redskins, the Bills offered the journey-man a ludicrous six-year, $59 million contract extension, with $24 million guaranteed. They went 2-8 the rest of the season, at one point dropping seven straight games, and while statistically Fitzpatrick had the best season of his career at the time in terms of yards (3,832) and touchdown passes (24), he also threw a career-worst 23 interceptions and became synonymous with unraveling under pressure. After an identical 6-10 season one year later, Fitzpatrick was cut and went back to being one of several yo-yoing quarterbacks of the NFL that bounce from team-to-team.
Buffalo missed the mark so badly when it comes to Fitzpatrick and to this day the franchise knows it. They simply cannot afford to make that mistake again and tie up money on a quarterback who isn’t the answer. With a year remaining on Taylor’s current three-year, $3.35 million deal – which had the third year get voided because he started more than half the team’s games in 2015 – Buffalo can use at least a portion of the 2016 season to evaluate Taylor further, before committing to him long-term. That’s not to say he’s isn’t the answer, but at this point there is still some rawness to his game that makes it uncertain. Can he be more consistent throwing over the middle of the field? Can he stay healthy? Can he develop a clutch factor and lead Buffalo on some late fourth quarter, comeback victories? These are all questions general manager Doug Whaley eluded to back in January at the end of the season press conference.
“I mean there are things that he can do that he needs to do better and one of the major things is obviously the consistency,” Whaley explained. “The second thing is and we tell him all the time, learn to slide. He has got to learn to slide. And thirdly it is going to come down to those last second heroics, where we have to put the team, the game and the ball in his hands and he carries us down and wins the game for us.”
When asked directly about whether or not Taylor had earned an extension back then, Whaley was noncommittal saying, “he’s warranted enough for us to continue down the road to see if he can be the franchise guy of the future.”
On an episode of the John Murphy Show later that month Whaley wavered on that stance a bit, expressing that Taylor was “on the list” of players the team hopes to extend this off-season.
Then at the NFL owners’ meeting in Boca Raton last month, Whaley mentioned that they’d been in talks with Taylor’s camp. “We got an initial ballpark figure,” he said. “There’s some work to be done. But is it insurmountable? No. We were in this session and his agent just called, so the dialogue’s [there].”
Facing a difficult situation cap wise it won’t be easy for Buffalo to extend Taylor on top of some other essential pieces like recently franchise tagged Cordy Glenn and CB Stephon Gilmore, who’s entering the final year of his rookie contract. Not only that but with QBs like Sam Bradford singing a two-year, $36 million deal and Brock Oseweiler receiving a four-year $72 million contract, Taylor and Bakari can use the market to their advantage, especially considering that the Pro Bowler is scheduled to make the lowest salary among starting quarterbacks in 2016 ($3.13 million).
The financial factors are just another reason the Bills don’t need to rush this process. They simply don’t have the money available right now to pay him market value.
Bakari’s radio rant may make for a good story, but it’s nothing more than an agent promoting his client, which is just one part of the typical agent-GM poker game that takes place every off-season. What Bakari isn’t respecting by trying to force their hand is that delicate cap situation. Smartly, Whaley has mostly held his ground and while he may eventually want to get a deal done with Taylor, he knows it has to be at a price Buffalo can afford. Holding a a $13.3 dead cap number this season means a huge chunk of money will become available to them next year, on top of the numerous contracts set to expire. They could also back-load an extension with large base salary amounts in the later years of the deal.
So there are options, but the premise still remains that the Bills don’t need to force it. As we saw with Fitzpatrick in 2011 patience is virtue otherwise they risk setting the franchise back another five-years. These “pending” negotiations also shouldn’t hinder the Bills from drafting a QB, even if it comes off the wrong way to Taylor and Bakari. All that is, is a safety net for Buffalo, who must at least consider a future that doesn’t include Taylor. It’s an ever evolving process. From the Bills standpoint though think of it like buying a car. Sure, the shiny sports car may look nice in the driveway, but will it be a durable machine that you can put 200,000 miles on? There needs to be proof of that sustained success from Taylor before the Bills can dub him their first “franchise quarterback,” since Jim Kelly.